The Next Step in the Information Revolution: Quantum Optics on a Chip

Team seeks to develop a device that changes the color of single photons

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A team of researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Washington is attempting to build the first active quantum optic device for implementation on electronic chips. The technology has the potential to greatly increase the functionality of quantum communication and information processing systems.

“Quantum optics deals with the manipulation of light at the particle level and the use of these particles, known as photons, to dramatically improve information processing capabilities,” explains Stefan Preble, assistant professor of microsystems engineering at RIT.

Preble notes that, historically, quantum optic devices have been implemented using large-scale, power hungry, bulk components. However, to become commercially viable, quantum technologies will need to be miniaturized in order to dramatically improve reliability, increase throughput and reduce power requirements.

A functionality that will be required on a quantum information chip to accomplish miniaturization is a single photon wavelength converter. Typically hundreds of millions of light particles, using a tremendous amount of energy, are needed to change the color of just a single photon. Preble’s team will utilize a newly discovered method that can change a single photon’s color through the use of a very low power electric signal. Preble’s article detailing the first demonstration of this method was featured on the May 2007 cover of Nature Photonics.

The team plans to improve on this work by incorporating a nonlinear polymer, provided by University of Washington, with a silicon optical resonator to enhance the efficiency of Preble’s wavelength conversion method. Researchers will then attempt to construct a single photon wavelength converter, using the improved method, for testing over the next two years.

“Low power wavelength conversion allows us to build workable quantum optics chips that can be tested and assessed both by our research team and the larger scientific community,” adds Preble. “The potential for the process and its impact on the development of quantum optics applications is considerable.”

The project is being funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.